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My child has a heart murmur; what does that mean?

October 14, 2011

As I finished taking care of my patients last week, I smiled at the relief that overcomes a parent when they learn that there is indeed nothing wrong with their child’s heart.

Last week, a young family came to see me at The Heart Center at Arnold Palmer Hospital. Mom and Dad had been recently faced with hearing the words, “Were you aware that your child has a heart murmur?” during a visit to a local after-hours clinic. This was entirely unrelated to the child’s ear infection, which was the reason for their visit. The young parents worried for what seemed to them like an eternity to be seen by a cardiologist the following week. I know how poorly they slept for fear that their child may have something wrong with her heart. Their only personal experience with heart disease was an uncle who died of a heart attack in his sixties.

Fortunately, their child was very healthy and active. With a history and clinical examination, I knew the murmur was innocent. I was able to very quickly reassure this little girl’s parents that the sound was a normal sound that is often more easily heard when blood is moving through the body at a faster rate than normal, such as with a fever. They left our clinic with the knowledge that their little girl had a normal heart.

Many families are referred to our clinic for evaluation of a heart murmur. This can be a new sound heard by a pediatrician or a change in the character of an existing one. Fortunately, in the healthy child the murmur is often an innocent sound and can be considered a normal heart sound. Once the murmur is identified as “innocent” it is important to understand that the heart is entirely normal. It can be very rewarding to re-frame the “murmur” from a scary thing to a normal heart sound. A murmur in and of itself is not a diagnosis; it is a sound. Children with innocent murmurs should enjoy unrestricted activity and require no special precautions. After all, their child’s heart is entirely normal!

Good news is a joy to give and a relief to receive.